Tragic grandmother dies falling out of coach on Northern Lights trip

Grandmother, 79, who travelled alone to see the Northern Lights on holiday in Norway died after she fell from the steps of her coach and hit her head on the concrete quayside, inquest told

A grandmother who travelled alone to see the Northern Lights in Norway died after she fell from the steps of her coach and hit her head, an inquest heard. 

Catherine Betty Fitzgerald, known as Betty, stumbled getting out of the coach during a day trip to the Norwegian Fjords on October 6, 2022.

The 79-year-old from Farnham, Surrey, missed the top step and fell, cracking the back of her head on the concrete quayside, leading to a fatal bleed on the brain. 

Betty had travelled to Norway with Saga Cruises. She was rushed to Stavanger University Hospital alone, with the travel firm opting not to send a medical representative with her as she was not on holiday long enough to be eligible for one.

The pensioner died alone three hours after the tragic accident when Norwegian medics switched off her life-support machine.

Coroner Christopher Wilkinson ruled her death was accidental, and a vision impairment in her left eye combined with a safety strip at the top of the steps being slightly obscured by the carpet of the coach led to the tragedy.

Catherine Betty Fitzgerald, known as Betty, stumbled getting out of the coach during a day trip to the Norwegian Fjords on October 6, 2022

Betty was taking a trip to the Norwegian Fjords with Saga Cruises (pictured is a file photo of the fjords)

During the inquest into the grandmother’s death, her grieving daughter Pauline Parrott blasted Saga for how it handled her mother’s accident. 

Mrs Parrott, 57, of Farnham, told Winchester Coroners’ Court her life was ‘turned upside down’ when she received a call from Saga’s customer services department breaking the news about her mother’s injury. 

She claimed the call handler was not aware of the severity of her Betty’s fall. It wasn’t until she got the number of the hospital in Norway that doctors told her Betty only had two hours to live. 

She told SurreyLive: ‘I just had to sit and wait for a call to confirm that she hadn’t made it. I wouldn’t have time to fly out there. I felt helpless, it was all so upsetting.’

At the time, Saga only dispatched a medical representative for those on a cruise for 11 days or more. Betty’s overseas trip was not long enough to qualify for this.

Pauline told the coroners court: ‘I think passengers would be shocked by some of the things you think are acceptable. There was a serious lack in communication regarding the severity of her injuries and support for the family. No one would want their parent alone in distress.

‘This is all very difficult to understand given the age of their clients and the admission from Saga’s Head of Safety that ‘slips and trips are commonplace’. Mum dying alone is truly heartbreaking, we would have loved to have been by her side when the life support was switched off.’

Daniel Mann, head of safety, policy and assurance at Saga cruises said a safety check was conducted on the day of the accident, but added: ‘Slips, trips and falls are not uncommon amongst our target age group.’

Betty was on a trip of a lifetime to see the Northern Lights in the Norwegian Fjords (file image)

Catherine Betty Fitzgerald suffered a bleed on the brain as a result of her fall

In statements, witnesses to the tragic fall claimed the steps were ‘quite steep’ and that there were no Saga staff on the ground to help passengers off the coach.

Coroner Christopher said he did not believe Betty tripped on the scuffed carpet, but he was concerned that the safety strip may have been obscured. Along with her limited vision, she may have anticipated the step to be closer than it was, he said.

He concluded: ‘My view is that the death was accidental and nothing could have been done. It is regrettable that the rep was not able to get off the coach first as they should have done and was not able to be present. 

‘Given the fact that she fell from the top step I do not believe there is likely much someone could have done being at the bottom of the stairs, and it may have caused them injuries.’

The coroner recommended a designated seat be set aside for Saga staff near coach exits to help passengers off the vehicles in the future. 

The coroner added: ‘It is a desperate and very sad event leading to the loss of life of Catherine ‘Betty’ Fitzgerald and the distress felt by the family trying to deal with her. I hope you have very fond memories of her.’

A Saga spokesperson said: ‘Our thoughts and condolences remain with the family of Mrs Fitzgerald following this tragic accident. We have been fully supportive of the inquest and provided all assistance to the coroner.’

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